NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The National Guard celebrated its 375th birthday Tuesday with state officials announcing a new suicide prevention smartphone app for Tennessee soldiers.
The “Guard Your Buddy” app is the first of its kind in the country with the potential to spread to other states, Guard officials said on Tuesday. At least six Tennessee guardsmen or women have taken their lives since 2004.
“There’s a stigma in the military about suicide,” said Maj. Gen. Terry “Max” Haston, the state adjutant general. “We want to take it away.”
Soldiers, or others, can use the app to dial a clinician when suicide is threatened.
Haston told reporters he is encouraging his fellow adjutant generals to follow Tennessee’s lead.
“We hope to simplify it to make it available to anyone in the nation,” he said.
Haston described suicide as a generational issue. “Young adults look to suicide as a solution,” he said.
Haston said the Guard faces a challenge because it is not a post like nearby Fort Campbell where in-person counseling might be available.
“We have to work harder,” he said.
The project, in the works since January, is being done along with the Jason Foundation, based in Hendersonville, Tenn., which works to prevent youth suicide.
Foundation founder Clark Flatt described suicides in the military as “a new and strange enemy.”
“We’ve lost too many troops to this battle,” he said. “Because of today, there will be Guardsmen in Tennessee kept alive.”
The Tennessee Guard held an hour-long ceremony at its headquarters to mark the birthday and trace the history of the military in the state.
“Our Guard has been there (more than) 100 years leading the way,” Haston said. The Tennessee militia was essentially born in 1796 when the state was admitted to the Union. However, the state’s first known militia mobilization was in 1774 in present day Sullivan and Carter counties.
Gov. Bill Haslam told the gathering that Tennessee has had among the highest percentage of its population with troops deployed to the Middle East.
“It’s a long and rich tradition,” he said.
Later, Haslam said, “The stresses of battle are real. And one of the things I’m proud of our Guard is the attention they pay to soldiers when they come home.”
A total of 1,300 Tennessee Guard members are deployed.